Welcome back baseball! Spring Training games started today, with 15 games to kick off the schedule. Here are some important notes and interesting tidbits from games around the league:
Reigning National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton made his debut for the New York Yankees, and went 0-1, with a walk and a ground into double play.
Padres top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. (#9 according to Baseball America) hit his first home run of the spring in a 3-2 loss to the Mariners.
Outfielder Austin Meadows, top prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, went 3-3 with two doubles in a 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. Meadows will likely get a look in the outfield by the end of the year, as the Pirates look to replace the departed Andrew McCutchen.
Scott Van Slyke got a leg up on the outfield competition for the Marlins, as his two homeruns and five runs batted in propelled the Marlins to a 6-4 victory over the St. Louis. Former Miami outfielder Marcell Ozuna made his Cardinals debut in this one as well, finishing 0-2 with an RBI.
The reigning World Series champion Houston Astros started Spring Training the same way they ended last year, with a win. They defeated the Washington Nationals 3-2.
Blue Jays off-season acquisition Curtis Granderson started off his spring in the best fashion possible, leading off the bottom of the first with a homerun in an eventual 2-1 victory.
Both of the Brewers major winter acquisitions made their debuts in different split squad games. Christian Yelich batted second and played left field, finishing 1-3 in a win over the Cubs. Lorenzo Cain finished 2-2 in a separate game, and helped propel the Brewers to a win over the Giants.
The Dodgers came out swinging, scoring 13 runs against the Chicago White Sox. Los Angeles got home runs from Justin Turner, Matt Kemp, Logan Forsythe, and Enrique Hernandez in the process.
Finally, the Tampa Bay Rays received some bad news to start the day, as top pitching prospect Brent Honeywell will miss 2018 due to Tommy John Surgery. Honeywell was set to make his debut sometime this year, and was looking to replace the recently traded Jake Odorizzi in the Tampa rotation.
Spring Training games are set to begin in the next few days, and everyone will shift their focus to how the players look and which teams appear ready to make a run for a World Series trophy. An interesting subplot all season will be the impending free agent class that is loaded with star talent. Fans have been waiting in anticipation for years, and everyone is looking forward to what will happen next winter. There is a season to be played beforehand though, and the value of these players could change significantly over the course of a year.
Below are our top 10 impending free agents heading into Spring Training. We will re-evaluate this list at the All-Star break and well as before free agency. Players with options for 2019 or contract opt-outs have been excluded from this list; only players who are clear impending free agents were considered.
1.) OF Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
We’ve all been dreaming of Bryce Harper’s free agency since he debuted on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and next winter the time will finally arrive. There have been suggestions of a $400+ million contract thrown around, which is not crazy given Harper will start his next contract at 26 years old. A healthy season would go a long way toward reaching that number, as Harper has played in more than 120 games just three times in his career. When he is on the field, he is often one of the best players in the game, and no matter what happens next year, he will compete with Manny Machado for the largest contract in baseball history. All the big market teams will call, and several of them will be heavily involved. Right now, it seems the Nationals, Cubs, and Dodgers are amongst the favorites, though the Yankees are lurking and just about every team could benefit from adding a 26-year-old MVP talent to their team.
2.) SS/3B Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles
Like Harper, Manny Machado will hit free agency at age 26 and will be looking to land a record setting contract. Machado has spent much of his career playing third, but has made it known his desire to stay at shortstop going forward. You’d have to think the right amount of money could change his mind, and a willingness to play either position would open up his market to more suitors. Not that he will be short on interested teams, and like Bryce, most every team will be interested in some capacity. The Yankees seem to be the front-runner nine months out, but there several other teams who could offer just as much as New York, and Machado landing in the Bronx is no slam-dunk by any means.
3.) LHP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
The greatest pitcher of our generation, and one of the greatest ever, will reach free agency for the first time next winter after his 11th season with the Dodgers. As it stands, it is near impossible to imagine Los Angeles letting Kershaw leave, but a lot can change in one season. If the Dodgers do let him walk, it may be seen as a red flag, as they know him and his history of back issues better than anyone. Regardless, Kershaw seems like a lock to sign one of, if not the biggest, contract for a pitcher in history, and all the big-money spenders will place a call come free agency.
4.) 3B Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays
Being ranked fourth on this list is no slight to Donaldson, as he is easily as impactful of a talent as those above him on this list. He is a legit middle of the order bat and a gold glove caliber third basemen. His 5.0 fWAR in 2017 was somehow his lowest in any season as a full-time player, and he has eclipsed the 6.5 fWAR threshold in his other four full seasons. Though he will be 33 years old when he begins his new deal, Donaldson is the type of all around player that could remain impactful as he ages. He also certainly has a few years of MVP level production left in him, and he would be a great get for teams that are on the outside of the Harper and Machado races.
5.) OF Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies
Though he finished fifth in MVP voting last year, I feel as if Charlie Blackmon still might not get the credit he deserves. Such is the life for a player that plays half of his games in Coors Field. Coming off a 6.5 fWAR season for Colorado, Blackmon has established himself as one of the best all-around outfielders in baseball. Even if he is unlikely to match that production going forward, there is no reason to doubt that Blackmon has a few 3-win seasons left in him. An All-Star that could fit with many teams, Blackmon would be a nice consolation prize for those who miss out or can’t afford those above him on this list. The Rockies will likely work hard to retain their fan-favorite, though Blackmon’s hometown Atlanta Braves makes some sense as well. Regardless, several teams will be interested in Blackmon’s services, and he is likely looking at a nine-figure payday next winter.
6.) RHP Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox
Craig Kimbrel bounced back from a disappointing 2016 by his standards to post a microscopic 1.43 ERA (1.42 FIP) and 3.3 fWAR for Boston in 2017. Kimbrel is one of the best relief pitchers in the game today, and given the way the league has shifted to heavier bullpen use, many teams will be looking to pry him away from Boston. It seems unlikely that Dave Dombrowski would let him slip away, but the Red Sox will have to pay heavily to keep their closer. Kimbrel will look to beat Aroldis Chapman’s 5-year, $86 million contract, and will set the market for the rest of the relievers next winter. With many teams ready to spend, Kimbrel will have his pick of choices following this campaign.
7.) 2B Brian Dozier, Minnesota Twins
While Brian Dozier has transformed his power game over the last two years, he has been one of the most consistent second basemen in the game since becoming a regular in Minnesota. Given another good season in 2018, Dozier could look to push $100 million on his next contract, though it seems unlikely he will hit that mark. Given his solid glove work and ability to hit 30+ homeruns, several teams will be interested in landing Dozier. He is amongst the top of the second tier free agents, but will likely have to wait for the top guys to sign before seeing his market come together.
8.) LHP Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros
Perhaps Dallas Keuchel should be ranked higher on this list, I just can’t shake the feeling his contract will end up being the most regrettable of the ones signed next off-season. In a market short on top starters, Keuchel is the best available that actually might change teams. Though Keuchel has performed like an ace before, he hasn’t done so since 2015, and does not have the power arsenal that makes you feel better about how he will age. He is still a very good pitcher in the present day, and with few alternatives, teams that need a top starter will be willing to pay Keuchel like one. If that investment pays off in the long-term is a different conversation, but Keuchel probably has a few good seasons left before the worry sets in.
9.) 2B Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals
Last time Daniel Murphy was a free agent, the market wasn’t sure whether he had truly transformed into the player he was in the 2015 post-season or if he was performing over his head. In his two seasons with Washington since then, he has posted a 5.5 fWAR and 4.3 fWAR respectively, and has proven to be one of the better hitters in the game. Another elite season would go a long way toward ensuring a ripe market, as Murphy will be 34 years old shortly after Opening Day 2019. If he shows any signs of decline in 2018, Murphy could risk falling down this list and facing a colder-than-expected market.
10.) LHP Andrew Miller, Cleveland Indians
Similar to Murphy, last time Andrew Miller was a free agent teams weren’t sure if they should buy into his transformation. The first three years of his contract have ended up being one of the biggest bargains in baseball, and Miller might be single handedly responsible for the change in how teams utilize their bullpen these days. Miller will be the 1B to Craig Kimbrel’s 1A in next years free agency, and his ability to play multiple roles will have many contenders lining up at his bank. Miller will look to put his 2017 knee troubles behind him and prove that he can be productive into his late 30’s to convince teams to pay him elite money one last time.
Also considered: C Yasmani Grandal (LAD), 2B DJ LaMehieu (COL), 3B Adrian Beltre (TEX), OF Adam Jones (BAL), OF A.J. Pollock (ARI), OF Andrew McCutchen (SF), DH/OF Nelson Cruz (SEA), LHP Patrick Corbin (ARI), RHP David Robertson (NYY), LHP Drew Pomeranz (BOS), LHP J.A. Happ (TOR), LHP Gio Gonzalez (WSH)
Spring Training is starting to get going, and teams are adding their final pieces or getting ready to go to war with what they’ve got already on their roster. The teams competing and the teams rebuilding have become abundantly clear, and while some free agents remain on the market, it is safe to say most of the winters major moves have already been completed. So which players might become available within the next year that seem untouchable right now? We identified four players that could be surprising additions to the trade market come winter 2018.
Madison Bumgarner, LHP San Francisco Giants
By all indications, the Giants are ready to be contenders again. They’ve added Evan Longoria, Andrew McCutchen, and Austin Jackson to a team that finished last in the National League West with a 64-98 record last season. With Madison Bumgarner at full strength, Hall of Famer Buster Posey still behind the plate, and three World Series titles since 2010, the Giants have every reason to believe they can compete.
But what happens if this all falls flat? Longoria and McCutchen, while still undoubtedly productive, are in the decline phases of their careers. The Giants have a farm system that is depleted in talent, and beyond what is on their major league roster; don’t have many more building blocks on the way. Should San Francisco struggle again in 2018; is it possible they would consider dealing Bumgarner to restock their farm system? For how long he has been around, MadBum will play most of this season at just 28 years of age. He is still in the prime of his career. However, his contract contains a $12 million option for 2019 (which will absolutely be exercised), and after that he is eligible for free agency. If the Giants can’t rebound in 2018, they might be best cashing in before potentially losing Bumgarner for nothing.
Even with just one year of control left after 2018, the Giants would be in a position to ask for multiple top prospects in return. We are talking about an in-his-prime ace that is one of the best post-season pitchers in baseball history. The Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers, Nationals, Angels, Astros, and Twins, just to name a few, would all be lining up to land Madison. Even rebuilding clubs could convince themselves that Bumgarner could anchor their rotation as they transition to contenders. All 29 other teams would be interested in some capacity. It seems more likely the Giants will be big spenders next winter than big sellers, but if they decide they’ve maximized their potential with this core, the king’s ransom they could demand for Bumgarner could help get a head start on a rebuild.
Kyle Seager, 3B Seattle Mariners
The Mariners are in a similar position to the Giants. They have a lot of talent on the major league roster that is either in or near the end of their prime. They also don’t have a lot of minor league talent on the way to supplement those players, and their big money commitments could age them into irrelevance sooner rather than later. For 2018 they will likely be aiming for a wild card spot, but if they miss the playoffs again, Seattle might look to do a little retooling next off-season.
Of the players on their major league roster, one of the few with substantial trade value is third baseman Kyle Seager. Seager is entering the fourth year of a seven-year, $100 million contract (with a club option for an eighth year), and is one of the most consistent, if underrated, infielders in the game. He has hit at least 20 homers in each of his seasons as a full time player, with at least 25 in each of his last four. Add in steady glove work, and Seager has been worth at least 3.5 fWAR in each of his full big league seasons.
Several teams with long-term openings at third will be looking to spend next winter, and once Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson sign contracts, a few of those teams will be left with nothing. The Mariners would be in a solid position to take advantage of that market, and there would be no shortage of teams interested in Seager at his four year, $71 million price tag. The Atlanta Braves strike me as an obvious match, as they are loaded with the young talent, especially pitching, that could interest Seattle. Both New York teams, the Cardinals, Red Sox, and Phillies are just a few other teams that jump out as potential suitors. Either way, for teams that miss out on the big names in free agency, Seager would be a great consolation prize. The Mariners would be in a position to get a strong package for Seager that could help them either deepen their major league roster, or start a rebuild all together.
Didi Gregorius, SS New York Yankees
Many have speculated on a possible contract extension between Didi Gregorius and the Yankees. However, it’s not inconceivable to think a separation might instead be in the cards. The Yankees are loaded with infield talent, with Gleyber Torres, Tyler Wade, Thairo Estrada, Brandon Drury, and Miguel Andujar all ready or near ready for major league roles. They have also been mentioned as one of the most likely destinations for Manny Machado next winter. However, Machado wants to play shortstop, which is the same position Didi currently mans for New York. Should the Yankees land Machado to play short, Gregorius would become expendable.
Gregorius will start his next deal at 30 years old, and the Yankees haven’t exactly been excited to hand out long-term contracts to middle infielders in recent years (see Cano, Robinson). Though Gregorius is one of their only left handed hitters, with so much depth at the position, the Yankees could instead flip Didi’s final year of team control to fill needs elsewhere. The Padres, Diamondbacks, Cardinals, Orioles, and Mets are just a few teams that could have openings at short next winter. Perhaps one of those teams would be more inclined to sign Gregorius long-term. Though a break-up between Didi and the Yankees seems unlikely at the moment, each day that passes by without an extension makes it that much likelier New York will move on.
Jacob deGrom, RHP New York Mets
Jacob deGrom was a bit late to establish himself in the majors. He didn’t debut until he was 26 years old and didn’t pitch his first full major league season until he was 27. They don’t check ID’s on the mound though, and deGrom has been a bona fide top of the rotation starter since he arrived in the Queens. deGrom is still under control for three more seasons, through 2020, and won’t reach free agency until he is 32 years of age. The Mets have recent first hand experience seeing how fast pitchers can break, and might not be inclined to give deGrom a new deal well into his 30’s.
Should they struggle in 2018, the Mets might explore the market on their ace righty. Next winters free agency crop is packed with hitters, but short on pitchers. Should he become available, he would instantly become the best pitcher on the market, assuming Clayton Kershaw isn’t leaving LA. Similar to what we attested to with Madison Bumgarner earlier, every contender and team close to contention alike would be knocking at GM Sandy Alderson’s door.
The Mets might not be willing to undergo a full rebuild, so it’s possible they would be looking for major league pieces instead of prospects, or some combination of both. Maybe swapping deGrom to the cross town Yankees for Gregorius and some of their prospects would be worth considering. Maybe the Mariners put do Kyle Seager on the market, and there is a match to be made there. Regardless if they request a package of minor leaguers or established big league talent, the Mets would be in a position to ask for whatever they wanted.
Lately, we’ve seen several teams such as the Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, and Chicago Cubs complete extreme rebuilds to win it all. Due to the way the system is currently constructed, losing (and losing big) rewards teams with high draft picks and more money to spend on talent. With the success of these teams, others have begun to follow the blueprint to lose a ton now to win a bunch in the future. Out of all the teams likely out of the 2018 playoff picture, let’s explore which ones might be the first to complete their rebuild and add a World Series title to their trophy case.
Going for it
Before we explore who is out of the race, we must establish who is going for it in 2018. We can safely count all the playoff teams from last year as contenders next year: the Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, Twins, Astros, Nationals, Cubs, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Rockies. Based on the moves of the Angels, Brewers, Cardinals, and Giants this off-season, I would consider them amongst the groups actively trying to get a playoff spot next year. I will also consider the Mets and Mariners amongst this group as well, as even though right now they seem on the outside of the picture, it’s not impossible to see either team sneaking into a wild card spot.
Somewhere in the middle
There are a few teams that probably aren’t good enough to find their way to the post-season, but aren’t completely rebuilding. The Texas Rangers are a team that probably should be rebuilding, but as long as they have Adrian Beltre, they can’t. They have some interesting young pieces in Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara having already established everyday roles in the majors, their middle infield is still on the right side of 30, and Baseball America (BA) ranked two of their prospects amongst the Top 100 in the game. They are closer to completing their rebuild than most other teams I will consider, so I will exclude them from the conversation.
The Toronto Blue Jays are in a similar position. They are more just waiting for their top prospects to graduate than they are rebuilding. At the big league level they have ace pitcher Marcus Stroman, young closer Roberto Osuna, and promising righty Aaron Sanchez, who is looking to bounce back from an injury-plagued 2017. Add in two of BA’s top ten prospects, and four of the top 100, the Blue Jays are in an enviable position. Ownership has shown a willingness to spend in the past, and they seem primed to become a third AL East juggernaut within the next two to three years.
Finally, I would consider the Orioles in this category as well. Even though they should pretty obviously rebuild, they seem like they will take one last run with Manny Machado and….Andrew Cashner? They have a ton of money committed in a redundant roster and have a weak farm system, but for now seem stuck in the middle. Regardless, fast forward a year, and the Orioles will be considered a rebuilding team.
So after narrowing the list, we are left with the following as obvious rebuilding teams: the Rays, White Sox, Tigers, Royals, A’s, Marlins, Braves, Phillies, Reds, Pirates, and Padres. Out of these teams, we rank the following as the most likely to win the World Series first:
1.) Atlanta Braves
The Braves have done a masterful job of acquiring talent, and much of it is just about ready to graduate to the big leagues. Atlanta boasts the top prospect in the game, outfielder Ronald Acuna, as well as seven additional BA top 100 prospects. Of those other seven prospects, six of them are pitchers. At the big league level, they have established core pieces Freddie Freeman, Ender Inciarte, Julio Teheran, and Sean Newcomb in place. Acuna is likely to become a regular before the end of 2018, and infielders Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, and Johan Camargo will also have a chance to solidify big league spots this season.
Armed with a new ballpark, a winning tradition, money coming off the books, and talent oozing from every direction, the Braves are in the best position of all rebuilding clubs. They are stacked with young pitching, the most valuable commodity in the game, and will be involved in every big name that becomes available on the trade market in the near future. They also figure to be interested in big names during next year’s loaded free agent class.
If everything goes as planned, the Braves could realistically hope for their World Series window to begin to open in 2019. With any luck it will remain wide for a good part of the next decade. That is especially true if they can land some marquee free agents or major trade targets to fill out the roster. Worst-case scenario for contention is likely 2020, but winning is right around the corner for Braves fans.
2.) Chicago White Sox
No team has acquired more talent in the last 12-18 months than the Chicago White Sox. Following a series of trades, including blockbusters involving Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, and Jose Quintana, the White Sox have accelerated their timeline considerably. They boast five of the top 100 prospects according to BA, two of which are amongst the top 10-15 in baseball.
At the big league level, they have pitchers Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Carson Fulmer looking to force their way into the team’s long-term plans. LHP Carlos Rodon has ace potential if he could ever find a way to stay on the mound. Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia remain on the roster, and could be used at the deadline to net further prospects. Infielder Tim Anderson took a step back last year, but still remains an interesting long-term piece.
The biggest factor in all of this is second baseman Yoan Moncada. I feel like prospect fatigue has begun to set in with Moncada, as we have been hearing his name for years and haven’t seen instant stardom in the majors. Maybe Moncada won’t reach the Robinson Cano projections set on him as a teenager, but he is just now establishing himself in the majors, and his power, speed, and defense skill set could have us talking about him as one of the top 25 players in the game a year from now.
I considered ranking the Sox as low as fifth, but settled on second because their path to a division title is the easiest going forward amongst the remaining teams on the list. The Indians remain a powerhouse for now, but their window may only last another couple years. The Twins will challenge the White Sox for next-in-line, but the Sox boast enviable minor league depth, potential on the big league roster, and still tradeable assets that could make them a serious contender by 2020 if they hit big on their top guys.
3.) Cincinnati Reds
I wanted to rank the Reds higher than this, but their path to a playoff spot goes through the Cubs, Brewers, and even the Cardinals going forward, and that is not going to be easy. However, I remain bullish on the Reds and believe they are closer than people realize.
I am fully aboard the “Luis Castillo is becoming an ace” train, and believe he could reach that point this year. If he does, he gives the Reds the clear top of the rotation starter that the other teams above them on this list can’t match at this time. 2017 #2 overall pick Hunter Greene could settle into the second spot in the rotation in the next few years. Anthony DeScalfani missed all of 2017, but showed promise before his injury. Robert Stephenson and Brandon Finnegan have some potential, though their ultimate role may land in the bullpen. Raisel Iglesias showed promise as the Reds long-term closer.
On the offensive side, Joey Votto is still ridiculously good and many feel he may age better than most players. Tucker Barnhart just won his first gold glove and gives the Reds a solid backstop. Eugenio Suarez is one of the most underrated players in baseball, and the Reds could either to build around him or deal for him substantial return. Infielder Nick Senzel is one of the top 10 prospects in the game, and should make the majors before long. Outfielder Taylor Trammell is probably not far behind.
It depends on how fast Greene, Senzel, and Trammell reach the majors, but the Reds should be looking at 2020 to begin to get into the conversation for a playoff spot. 2021 looks more likely for a serious World Series run, but if they can develop their pitchers, an early arrival could end up surprising many. I would love to see the Reds solidify their pitching staff in the meantime, and possibly take advantage of free agent pitchers with dropping contract demands.
4.) San Diego Padres
Perhaps the Padres should be ranked higher. However, their big league roster is more of a mess than anyone on this list, and for that reason I have them ranked fourth. They possess more top 100 prospects (six) than the White Sox and Reds (each with five), four of which ranked in the top 35 in all of baseball, according to BA. Needless to say, they have as much, if not more, high potential talent than any rebuilding squad.
Infielder Fernando Tatis Jr. was a brilliant get in the James Shields trade a few years ago, and ranks amongst the best prospects in the game. Cal Quantrill and MacKenzie Gore have top of the rotation arsenals, and Michel Baez and Adrian Morejon should be rotation pieces long-term as well. San Diego has been aggressive in the Rule 5 draft in recent years, and has added interesting pieces in RHP Luis Perdomo and C Luis Torrens, among other players, in the process.
In the majors, the Padres just signed Eric Hosmer, which probably moved them further away from contention than closer (joking, kind of). Wil Myers is a redundant fit with Hosmer, and the Padres probably hope to re-establish his value this year to swap him out next winter. All-Star closer Brad Hand just signed an extension, and will likely be around for the next contending Padres club. Catcher Austin Hedges bat finally began to catch up last year. Outfielders Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe are still finding their way into regular roles. The club essentially paid $13 million for Bryan Mitchell earlier this winter, so they surely hope he will earn rotation spot this spring.
Bottom line, the Padres have some interesting pieces in the majors, but nothing compared to the teams ranked above them on this list. They do, however, boast some of the highest collection of big-potential prospects in the minors, and impressive depth to back those top guys up. Ideally, they would hope to begin to compete in 2020, but 2021-2022 might be the real beginning of their window. The Dodgers loom as a powerhouse, and the Diamondbacks, Rockies and Giants are competitive right now as well. However, high-end talent can make rebuilding teams come together fast, and the Padres now have $144 million reasons to believe they’re closer than people think.
5.) Philadelphia Phillies
While ranked last on this list now, I believe the Phillies could easily jump to the top of this list in the next year. Their ability to spend trumps those above them on this list, and they have just $42.4 million in committed money for 2019 (pre-arbitration). That number drops to $28.93 million in 2020, and $10.85 million in 2021 (this will go up if they reach an agreement with Jake Arrieta). They are a sleeping giant.
The Phillies have more than just deep pockets. Like the White Sox and Reds, they also have five of the top 100 prospects, according to BA. J.P. Crawford is probably the best of the bunch depending whose opinion you ask, and he reached the majors last year. Second baseman Scott Kingery is knocking on the door as well, and will be ready for his first extended look this year. Pitchers Sixto Sanchez, Franklyn Kilome, and Adonis Medina are a little bit further down the latter.
The Phillies have Odubel Herrera, who they got in the Rule 5 draft, as their everyday center fielder. Rhys Hoskins had a historic big league debut, and will play left field to make room for new first baseman Carlos Santana. Cesar Hernandez has established himself as a regular, but seems more like future trade bait right now. Maikel Franco will get one more chance to prove himself as a part of the Phillies future. Outfielders Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr had impressive seasons in 2017, and will have a chance to further impress the coaching staff this upcoming season. The fightin’s also have one of the best young pitchers in the game in Aaron Nola, and have several other young arms behind him with potential.
Overall, the Phillies have one of the better systems in the game, and have several established or interesting pieces in the majors. They will likely use next season to whittle through the infielders and outfielders they want to keep beyond 2018. The ones they deem expendable will likely be flipped for better fits for the roster in the near future. With little future obligations, the Phillies will likely be involved in all the big names in next years loaded free agent class. Combine their financial might, prospect depth, and emerging young players, and the Phillies could easily find themselves competing in 2019 if they can find the right pieces. If not, a 2020-2021 window would likely be the worst-case scenario, but the Phillies have the highest variability in both directions of anyone on this list.
It has been reported that the Red Sox and OF/DH J.D. Martinez have closed a five-year deal that will bring Martinez’s much needed power bat to Fenway. It seems after a winter-long stare down, the two sides have found common ground on a contract. After fans and writers spent the cold months demanding the Red Sox respond to the Yankees stealing Giancarlo Stanton away from Miami, the Fenway faithful can rest easy tonight knowing Dave Dombrowski and company have done exactly that.
So what does it mean for the AL East race? With the Red Sox having been relatively quiet up to this point, many pointed at the Yankees as the favorite heading into 2018. Inactivity doesn’t mean as much when you already have a fantastic team however, and the Fangraphs projected standings painted a different picture even before the Martinez signing. Without the new addition factored in, the Red Sox (92-70) were already considered the favorite over New York (90-72). Now, projecting standings is of course an imperfect science, but the Bronx Bombers weren’t necessarily as much of a shoe-in for the division crown as some may have thought.
If the Red Sox were already the favorite, the signing of J.D. Martinez widens the gap even further. What could the Yankees do to respond to this move to ensure they keep pace with Boston? And is a move even necessary?
I’m just going to start here because I feel the cries from the Bronx to sign Moose will amplify as the ink dries on Martinez’s new contract. To this point, Mike has experienced a non-existent market for his services. That figures to change some with Martinez and former teammate Eric Hosmer off the board, but there just aren’t many third base openings across the majors. Moustakas’ pull-happy left-handed bat would admittedly fit very well somewhere between Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Gary Sanchez, but there are other obstacles to overcome here.
The first is, as you’ve likely heard, the payroll. The Yankees are trying to reset their luxury tax bracket, and only have about $10-12 million to spend before keeping the rest for mid-season additions. The second issue, Moustakas would likely have to settle for a one-year deal, and that is unlikely. The Yankees don’t want to block their prospects, and for all the talk of collusion this off-season, the last week has proven that money is still out there. It would likely take Moose’s market remaining dry into the regular season for him to consider a one-year pact. Last but not least, Moustakas was worth -8 DRS last year at third, and for all the talk of prospect Miguel Andujar’s supposed shortcomings in the field, Moose might actually be worse for New York. All these factors make it very hard to see the two sides coming together, regardless of how strong the fit looks on paper.
We’ve been hearing the Yankees connected to rotation upgrades all winter. Perhaps they will pursue arms with more urgency now that Boston has added a top bat. Problem is, there are still no perfect options out there. Michael Fulmer of the Detroit Tigers is likely the best option potentially available, but teams league wide don’t seem to be too keen on Clint Frazier as a center piece of a deal, and I would think if Detroit was any different, a deal would have been struck by now.
Other options such as Arizona LHP Patrick Corbin, or Kansas City LHP Danny Duffy are likely available in some capacity, but the price is unclear. Free agent righty’s Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, and Alex Cobb remain on the market, but for salary reasons similar to Moustakas, a big signing seems unlikely for New York.
Luckily for the Yankees, their prospects aren’t going anywhere. They have five capable starting pitchers at the moment and can wait until mid-season to re-evaluate their needs. Perhaps a more perfect rotation fit will become available at the deadline, and the Yankees might be better holding their pieces until that perfect fit comes along.
While they wait for the right deal, perhaps the Yankees could search for bargains on the free agent market. Though big names are starting to come off the board, there are still lower-tier players to be had. Perhaps a short-term fix in the infield or added rotation depth could be the answer for now.
Available infielders of interest could include Brandon Phillips, Neil Walker, and Yunel Escobar. Walker and Escobar offer positional versatility that the Yankees would likely look for. LHP Francisco Liriano, or RHP’s Trevor Cahill and Jesse Chavez could interest the Yankees as pitchers would could either come out of the pen or fill in the rotation. Regardless, there are several options out there if the Yankees are content increasing their depth and not making another big splash at the moment.
Is it necessary?
Up until about an hour or so ago, the Yankees were seen in many circles as the favorite for the AL East crown. If not the favorite, they were considered at least neck-and-neck with Boston. Projections may have argued otherwise, but nobody was crazy for thinking either team could win the division. Now, Boston has added a significant piece that could tip the scales back their way.
Regardless of the Martinez signing, I think New York is content waiting for now. As presently constructed, they may be one infielder or starting pitcher away, but if the perfect fit isn’t available they may be better waiting and seeing what they have before making a move. It’s possible Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres will establish themselves as regulars by mid-season, and nothing more than a depth piece will be necessary to patch the infield. Perhaps Jordan Montgomery takes a big step forward, or one of their prospects comes knocking at the door, and a pitcher isn’t as much of a need in July as it seems now. Or, these plans will blow up and obvious needs will rear their ugly head early in the season, gearing the Yankees up for mid-season additions.
As previously mentioned, the Yankees have assets that aren’t going away, and they can afford to wait. Sonny Gray came to them. Giancarlo Stanton came to them. I believe they will wait until the next perfect fit comes calling, and when that time comes, they will still have all their prospect capital to cash-in on.
According to Jon Heyman, the Red Sox and free agent slugger J.D. Martinez are “moving close to a deal”. Specifics are not yet known, and details will be updated as they come in.
The Red Sox have made it clear all winter that they were searching for an offensive upgrade after finishing 27th in baseball in home runs in 2017. Martinez, 30 years old, is coming off a fabulous season where he hit .303/.376/.690 with 45 home runs in just 119 games. We have heard that Boston was willing to offer a 5-year deal, while Martinez was holding out for longer. It seems the two sides have found a middle ground.
In Boston, J.D. Martinez would primarily be a designated hitter, though he will likely rotate in the outfield as well from time to time. His arrival brings much needed thump to Boston’s line-up, and signing Martinez will be seen in baseball circles as the Red Sox answer to the rival New York Yankees acquiring Giancarlo Stanton earlier this winter.
Last night the Tampa Bay Rays made the peculiar decision to designate for assignment OF/DH Corey Dickerson. Dickerson, 28 years old, is coming off a campaign where he slashed .282/.325/.490 with 27 round-trippers and was worth 2.6 fWAR. Corey was also the All-Star starter at DH for the American League in 2017. Needless to say, you can imagine most any team in baseball being interested in acquiring an in-his-prime All-Star for cheap. Dickerson is owed just $5.95 million for next season, and is under control through 2019. Out of the many teams that will be interested in Dickerson’s services, let’s take a look at some that make the most sense.
Marlins fans have endured a terror of an off-season. The new front office has traded away all three of their starting outfielders, and has essentially waived the white flag for the immediate future. One way Derek Jeter and company could earn some goodwill back in Miami would be to steal away Dickerson from the other Florida team. The Marlins have plenty of open outfield spots to slot Dickerson into, and he could give the franchise a recognizable face to root for through the rebuilding years. Additionally, Dickerson’s power hitting would be a welcome addition to a line-up that currently lacks depth.
The name of the game for both sides, of course, is cost. The Rays must make a deal or risk losing Dickerson for nothing, but will not struggle to find a trade partner. The Marlins have recently added some minor-league depth due to their several winter deals, but are likely unwilling to deal any of their best talents for a guy that won’t move the needle in terms of competing. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a match to be made, though the Rays may be able to do better elsewhere. The Marlins also have been in salary shedding mode this off-season, and even though Dickerson has a relatively modest salary next year, ownership may not be willing to spend much more money.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox came into the off-season needing to upgrade their offense. They now head into Spring Training still needing to accomplish that very goal. They are in a never-ending negotiation stare down with free agent slugger J.D. Martinez, and risk ending up with nothing if he lands elsewhere. Perhaps Boston could instead turn their attention to Dickerson in that case. While not as prolific with the bat as Martinez, Dickerson is the better fielder at this point, making a four-outfielder rotation easier to navigate.
There is always the obstacle of inner-division trades to overcome, but the Rays have shown a willingness to deal within the AL East recently. The Red Sox also don’t have the deepest farm system by any means, so it comes down to how the market for Dickerson shakes out. However, in a vacuum the fit makes a lot of sense, and I could see a match coming together if Martinez heads elsewhere.
The other end of the J.D. Martinez spectrum. Arizona’s line-up looks considerably different without Martinez, and they could instead turn to Dickerson to replace some of that missing thump. Also, as mentioned previously, Dickerson is the stronger of the two with the glove, which is notable considering the Diamondbacks spacious outfield. Additionally, Dickerson’s left-handed bat would fit well between righty’s AJ Pollock and Paul Goldschmidt atop the Arizona line-up.
The Diamondbacks have enough depth in their farm system to get a deal done. One obstacle is money, as they have been saying all off-season they can’t expand their payroll too much more. One way to offset the salary could be to deal LHP Patrick Corbin in a separate deal, or perhaps expand this into a three-team swap. Regardless, there is enough need and want from both sides to make a deal work. On paper, this seems to be one of the strongest fits amongst interested teams.
It would all come full circle. Corey Dickerson spent 2013-2015 in Colorado before being dealt to Tampa Bay in the first place. Colorado has an obvious need for offensive upgrades, especially now that Gerardo Parra is questionable for opening day. While they have a couple options to fill their outfield voids, none are as established as Dickerson. For a team that is chasing a playoff spot while they still have Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado under contract, adding an impact bat makes sense. They would also potentially be keeping him from the division rival Diamondbacks.
I would think the Rockies have enough to find a match. They have several power arms both at the major league and minor league levels that could intrigue the Rays, as well as some infield depth. The Rockies also have David Dahl and Raimel Tapia who are major league ready outfielders, but I don’t think they’d be willing to trade either one for Dickerson. Regardless, the Rockies have a pretty obvious need for a productive outfielder, and bringing back Dickerson to fill that hole could be the perfect match.
Philadelphia Phillies / Detroit Tigers
I am going to pool these two together, because it’s the same line of thinking. Both teams are rebuilding and could use as much talent as possible. Getting an All-Star at a discounted price is a move that every rebuilding team should pounce on. Even if Dickerson doesn’t stick around to be on the next great Phillies or Tigers team, perhaps he could be flipped for an interesting prospect in the next two years that could push the rebuild along a little further. The move is a no-brainer for either team if the price is right.
The Phillies have the prospects to get a deal done. The Tigers are pretty short on minor league talent. Best-case scenario, if either of these teams were interested, they would land Dickerson off waivers. The Tigers would have first dibs, and the Phillies would have third, based on last year’s records. You’d have to think if either team has the chance they would put a waiver claim in, but it seems more likely Dickerson will be traded before he can get to that point. Even if it isn’t off the waiver wire, it makes sense for both of these teams to check in on the price of acquiring Dickerson.